To a tree critic, the National Christmas Tree is disappointing this year. It simply isn't in the same league with the Capitol Tree. In fact, even the sprawling but sprightly display outside the District Building was more fun to look at.
Now, nobody is knocking all the good people who put in their time to entertain for the Pageant of Peace and to decorate the 57 smaller trees along the Pathway of Peace on the Ellipse.
These five-foot evergreens are festooned with large clear baubles containing things pleasing to the various states and territories. Colorado's tree has lovely blown-glass birds and blossoms. The Northern Mariana Islands' has gilded seashells. Idaho's has a miniature potato sack and homemade potato heads. Florida managed to work in Mickey Mouse, who one would have thought was a Californian.
Anyway, the decorations are homey and sometimes pretty, and at night the circle of trees lights up cheerily.
This National Tree thing is a tradition that goes back 64 years. Even the decorations for the main tree, a 30-foot living Colorado blue spruce from York, Pa., were donated by the same major corporation that has been doing it for the past 24 years. (The name is not important; surely it is done for love, not publicity.)
There are 4,000 lamps that change from red to white to blue and back, basketball-sized baubles at the bottom and smaller ones at the top, tiered swags of white and silver, and a yard-high star at the peak.
The lights go on and off, changing color every 12 seconds or so, but the effect is somehow dull. It lacks vitality. It looks like something a major corporation would design.
You want vitality, you should check out Western Plaza at 14th and Pennsylvania. Nine fat trees covered with big colored lights and gold streamers stand on the District Building steps. The stumpy little firs on the plaza itself are lighted too. And all around the square and far down the avenue, the bare trees and lampposts glitter with tiny white lights. Even in front of the Post Office Building, brilliant pinpoints of light prick out the shapes of elegant tree skeletons.
It's a veritable fairyland. Imagine. On Pennsylvania Avenue.
And now you reach the Capitol. And on its west lawn is the Outdoor Tree of the Year, a spectacular 60-foot Norway spruce from Marietta, Ohio.
The lights, amber, blue, white, are laid on in a web over the tree, preserving its triangular form. There are 5,000 lights, mingled with thousands of homemade baubles: bells, stars, angels, little packages, a miniature globe covered with the world's flags, things that rattle and things that jingle.
Try to see it on a breezy night. Because, swaying and rustling in the wind, the tree does its best to sing.
The U.S. Forest Service supplies the tree. The staff of the architect of the Capitol decorates it. They use the same baubles year after year, just like the rest of us. From a distance, the tree seems to flash and sparkle. Why more people don't come to see it is one of those Washington mysteries.
There are lots of indoor public trees around town. From the Ellipse you can just glimpse the 18-footer in the Blue Room of the White House. It is decorated in a musical theme and was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Eric Sundback of Crawford County, Pa., the national champion Christmas tree growers.
At the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, the 11th annual "Trees of History" exhibit has opened. There are 10 trees, each decorated by a volunteer group that is carefully screened for signs of commercialism.
One tree is acrawl with macrame'. Another features bits of hooked rug, and another has stencil designs. Perhaps the prettiest is the one on the ground floor, spangled with fantastic cut-paper patterns.
The museum gets to keep these regional craft products, and it now has 13,000 baubles in storage. Some of them are lent out to other museums, so you see there is a use for everything.
"These trees will be seen by a quarter of a million people in the next two weeks," said James R. Buckler, director of the Office of Horticulture, which provides the trees and poinsettias.
Poinsettias. For poinsettias you go to the U.S. Botanic Garden. There you will find a quite respectable tree decorated with electric candles and glass icicles, but mostly you will find poinsettias. There is a whole bed of them, not an earthen bed but a furniture bed, so wide it could be taken for the Great Bed of Ware, filled to the headboard with poinsettias.
Let's see: Have you tried Meridian House with its Russian tree, all "Faberge'-like" eggs and bird nests? Or the Victorian one at Oatland in Leesburg? Or the Early American one at Woodlawn in Mount Vernon? Or all the trees in hotel lobbies and shops and malls and office buildings and on truck radiators?
The Druids would flip.